Compassion: From the Bible’s Joseph to Bruce Springsteen

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Bruce Springsteen’s most recent hit single, “We Take Care of Our Own” has been played non-stop throughout this year, especially during President Obama’s re-election campaign, the democratic national convention and at his victory party in Chicago. When my father in law introduced me to the song a number of months ago, I felt conflicted by its message.

On the one hand, Springsteen correctly exhorts the American people to overcome our selfish habits and take care of our country and our people. Yet on the other hand, while we strive to be one big family in the USA, the truth is that we are much more than a family that takes care of our own. We take care of everyone. We view our role in the world as a country that will do its utmost to ensure peace and democracy and opportunity in every corner of the world. Sometimes we have to tread gently, like recent events have shown with the Arab Spring, and other times we can be more assertive. Is Springsteen’s message to take care of our own in contradiction to this value?

When Joseph understood from Pharaoh’s dreams that the famine would not only affect Egypt but would spread to other countries, he didn’t inform and advise them to begin saving and storing their produce. Did Joseph not care about the inhabitants of those lands? In this week’s Torah portion, Joseph gives Benjamin a larger portion of food and clothing than the rest of his other brothers. Did Joseph not care for them because of the way he was treated?

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